Hallowed tables
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2018 - 12:00am

They are not just  pieces of furniture, but  what is placed on them is food always considered divine no matter how ordinary or elaborate the dish.  The beauty of having them is in finding a most profound meaning in an activity  that is so primal and fundamental to our daily existence: eating.

Those are words from the author of Hallowed Tables: Nourishing Recipes. Inspiring Stories. This  is a  unique book containing 30  stories of  21 women who cook for the manse or a minister’s house, be it in Taytay, a town in Australia or in the United States. The collection is  written by Edelwisa Roman Gonzaga, a minister’s wife herself, who describes the stories as  showcasing “how the delightful combination of food and faith can lead to heartwarming tales of survival, joys, and triumphs… They help us start our own voyage into the exciting world of food and godly love. . . (The)  recipes are supported by engaging stories that explore the innate beauty of the human spirit while celebrating God’s love.”

 Edelwisa spent over 20 years in the telecommunications industry, wrote and/or edited a number of entries for the company which she represented, many of which have been recognized in the Philippine Quill and Philippine Anvil Awards. She now putters  in the kitchen in Lynden, Washington, with her husband, Rev. Conrado Medina Gonzaga,  and their three sons.

Aside from helping their husbands in their tasks (like Mary) and serving merienda at meetings (like Martha) the pastors’ spouses make sure there is food in the refrigerator for the family, especially for the growing kids with insatiable appetites. This is where creativity comes in: they have to find ways to make their meals fun to eat within a limited budget. 

Edelwisa’s book takes off long after the publication of the 1919 revised  edition of Manila Cook Book by the Guild of Central Methodist Church and the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Union Church Manila. Their efforts are recorded in The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521-1935, which Felice Prudente Sta. Maria authored in 2016.

Hallowed Tables features pastors’ wives’ culinary experiences in and outside the country. They bring their home-made dishes to wherever they are, and there, learn to innovate and incorporate ingredients from the other Marthas.  There are recipes by local, American  and Nigerian women. When  Edelwisa was a telecommunications executive she subsisted mainly on company cafeteria and fast food deliveries with only occasional fare-dining fare. “In the midst of the women of the manse, I would be exposed to unfamiliar food and enter a universe of flavors.”

First to prick her fancy was Helen Zapanta-Tolentino, a pastor’s widow and her Gulay na Bawang. “The mild flavor and soft texture of the young garlic bulbs sautéed in onions, tomatoes and pork mixed with a little sotanghon of the slinky type seemed to reawaken my palate. This family heirloom made one taste, nay savor, timelessness within the fellowship of the church now being extended to me. It is the product of hands that painstakingly checked each and every leaf to ensure that only the freshest went with the dish, the same hands that chopped the greens ever so finely all for a unique dining experience.”

Do pastors’ wives have their cooking secrets? “I tried to collate them in this book. But please, do not expect domestic contessas. Some of them are random cooks who cannot prepare rice perfectly. Others concede that decent meals are prepared by the husband himself. A number of them are also regular patrons of neighboring turo-turo… It is not really  that hard searching for women  of the manse who are a joy to watch in the kitchen and can prepare a feast at a moment’s notice.”

Writes Edelwisa: “Women of the manse get to experience the foodscape of every new locale they are assigned to. Their taste becomes bolder with each journey as it offers a unique, gastronomic experience. In time, they become keepers of gradually evolving heirloom recipes, hometown favorites, and passed-on  kitchen hacks. Women of the manse may be considered bonafide members of one of the world’s oldest albeit informal homemakers’ clubs. Across the globe, they number in the hundred of thousands, perhaps millions even.”

Little space allows me to put out only a number of these pastors’ mates recipes.  

Luz Barlit’s husband Gilbert was one of the first graduates of the then newly introduced course on electronics and communications engineering. Gilbert was even being asked by Malacanang Palace to lead the aerospace development program during the turbulent 70s. The couple  moved to Canada, where, in the fall of 2002, Luz became a pastor’s wife as Gilbert entered the ministry full-time. She was on hand to support him after working for 38 years at an insurance company in British  Columbia. Gilbert helped establish the Living Word Christian Church and has been serving as its senior pastor since its inception.  

Food plays an integral part in the lives of the Barlits.  Luz’s ensaymada has reached an “iconic” status among those who have tasted it. They are moist and soft with a crowning glory of generous butter and cheese on top. She has developed two versions: the traditional and sugar-free for fellow seniors who are watching their diet but can’t wean themselves from partaking of their guilty pleasure.  

The recipes are simple to make, and if you wish to try making them, contact the publisher, New Day Publishers, at (632) 4040934. The recipes include Kathy Kirelie’s Blinna, Omega Raimundo’s Brazo de Mercedes and Ube-Makapuno, Carol Mendillo’s Padigu, Josephine Victoria’s indigenous burger, Helen Tolentino’s Chicken Adobong Matanda, Taiwo Raji-Rich’s Nigerian Jollof Rice, and Joy Valera’s Pulled Pork. 

As spouse to Pastor David Valera who serves as the director of Connectional Ministries in the Pacific Northwest Conference, Joy Valera serves as the de facto host to gatherings of Filipino-American pastors in the area.  Her Pulled Pork has become a staple in camps, picnics, church dinners and potlucks (or pot bless) at work. 

At the outskirts of Taytay, Rizal is  Zackubo, a  quaint restaurant with a charming tree house which boasts of its specialty – an original and authentic strawberry sinigang. It is owned by  Mehden Belino  Cruz, herself an ordained minister, and  her husband Rev. Glen Sanvictores. They are now nurturing The Messiah Community Church.

The women in the book are no professionals, writes Edelwisa. “Yet they represent the dinner tables of the common tao, who may have no idea about the difference between haute cuisine and carinderia food, jollijeeps and goldibacks. Some reflect foreign influences on their palates as migrant Filipinos, as members of God’s melting pot chiming in their thoughts, stories, and of course, recipes. These women have earned their (pork) chop and made their (grill) mark in the kitchen in their own right. Unfortunately , those silent culinary voices have not been heard until now.”

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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